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Illustration from Chambers Book of Days depicting a sow and her piglets being tried for the murder of a child. The trial allegedly took place in 1457, the mother being found guilty and the piglets acquitted. Wikimedia photo

Animal Trial in History: Notable Animals, Offences and Executions

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Animal trial, as in legal history,  was the criminal trial of a non-human animal (Wikipedia). The majority of such trials (Article: Animal Trial) as recorded occurred in Europe from the thirteenth century until the eighteenth. These are notable animal trials in history:


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Ia sow and her piglets being tried for the murder of a child.
The trial allegedly took place in 1457,
the mother being found guilty
and the piglets acquitted. Wikimedia photo

As known to them, pigs will usually eat anything eatable including an untended baby or young child. A court in Falaise, France in 1386, sentenced a female pig to be mutilated in its head and forelegs because the pig had eaten the child’s head and arms. After being found guilty, it was fitted in man’s dresses and hanged in the main square in town


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A Rooster. Cr:

One of the incredible and strange cases of animals being prosecuted for human crimes is the case of a rooster in the town of Basel, Switzerland. A rooster was sentenced by a council of magistrates in 1474  for the “heinous and unnatural crime of laying an egg.” (

The cause for the conviction, according to many publications, was the unusual and medieval belief in the existence of an animal called a “basilisk.” Basilisk was cross between a reptile and a chicken. They were hatched, as ought, from laid egg by a rooster which had been impregnated by a frog, or a snake.


In Vienna, Austria, in 1712, a soldier’s dog bit a member of the local council in his right leg.

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A Dog.

The dog’s owner refused to take responsibility for the dog and turned the animal over to the court. The dog was then sentenced to one year of imprisonment in the Narrenkotterlein, an iron cage mounted in the town square that normally held “blasphemers, unruly and other breakers of the peace.”

By 1610, the Belgian fabulator Antonius Morancius depicted a case where a pack of wild dogs attacked and killed a Franciscan monk. Despite clear signs that they were suffering from rabies, the dogs were given a full trial and then convicted of murder


Ansbach, Germany, in the year 1685, a wolf began preying on local herds and then killed some women and children. Finally, after great adversity, the animal was tracked down and killed.

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A Wolf. photo cr: a-z animals blog

Believing the animal was a ‘werewolf,’ “a supernatural incarnation of a local late man”, the townspeople dressed the dead wolf in an outfit made of pale cloth that resembled human skin, and also it was fitted with a brown wig and a long beard.

Its nose was cut off and it was fitted with a mask resembling the dead man to this head. The wolf was then tried and sentenced in court and afterwards, hanged in the town square.

By 1573, the local council in France Comte gave legal permission for the townspeople to hunt down and kill a “werewolf” that was preying on local animals. For an instance, a man named Gilles Garnier, who allegedly “ran on all fours” and ate children when he was in his werewolf phase, was apprehended, imprisoned and killed.


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A Donkey, a Mule and a Horse. Pinterest photo

In one pertaining to a cruel case, a mule was damned to be burned alive for the crime of bestiality in 1565 in the town of Montpellier, France. Because the mule was scathy and tried to kick its captors (an understandable reaction!), the executioner cut off its feet before throwing it onto the bonfire.

In Vanvres, near Paris, a man named Jacques Ferron was caught in the act of having sex with a female donkey. Ferron was tried, imprisoned and killed.

In the same vein, the donkey was acquitted on the grounds that it was a victim and had not solely engaged in the crime of its own free will.

At the donkey’s trial, the before of the local convent said that he had known the donkey for four years, and attested that the donkey had “always shown herself to be righteous and well-behaved both at home and abroad and had never given occasion of scandal to anyone.”


By 864, the Council of Worms in Germany law that a swarm of bees, which had stung a man to death, should be suffocated in their hive. The fear was that honey made by the bees would be “demonically tainted.”

An Insect. cr: johnmurilaws blog

Elsewhere through Europe, insects from weevils to locusts to flies were given sophisticated trials, complete with lawyers.

One particularly long case in the city of St. Julien in France lasted eight months, as it had to be delayed due to an ongoing war.


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A Cat. cr: dkfindout blog

Whilst cats have been maltreated and dreaded throughout much of European history, prolly the most frightening of abuse against these animals was the Great Cat Massacre of the 1730s which took place in Paris.

The issue was the maltreatment of printer’s apprentices. Prior to the great age of industrialization, print shops were one of the first metropolis sweatshops.

With the number of print shops artificially limited by law, a few rich owners were able to reap vast riches by employing hundreds of journeyman apprentices who often rose before dawn and worked long, exhausting days, only to be fed table scraps that were unsuitable for animals.

It was also a practice for many print shop owners to keep cats, commissioning costly oil portraits of their beloved pets and feeding them only the choicest bits of meat.

Unable to complain directly against their masters, in the 1730s, a group of printer’s apprentices led by a man named Nicolas Contat began executing the masters’ cats, breaking their spines with iron bars, pulling out their fur and claws, and then putting them in front of mock trials prior hanging them.

The habit of imprisoning cats for all the wrongs committed by the print shop owners soon spread like wildfire through the city until thousands of cats had been tortured, mutilated and killed.


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A Rat. pic.

Barthélemy de Chasseneuz is a prominent French jurist known for his books on the law and jurisprudence. His widely- venerated treatises were later used to develop the Napoleonic Code, the basis of modern law in France and many other countries around the world.

But few people today know that Chasseuneuz’s most unusual case came in 1506 when he was employed by the court in the city of Autun to be defense counsel for a group of rats that were accused of destroying the local barley crop.

Using a combination of brilliant legal rhetoric and Christian theology, Chasseneuz finally won the case when the court accorded that the apt punishment for the rats was to warn them to stay away from the barley fields. If the rats failed to heed the warning, they would then be banished by the local bishop.


Hundreds, possibly thousands of horses have been sentenced of crimes in the United States and Europe.

By and large in 1389, the council of Dijon, France doomed a horse to death for homicide. Subsequently in 1697, a horse was killed and burned by a law of the local parliament in Aix for the same crime.

Sir William Blackstone, writing in the 18th century, penned the most famous treatise on English law ever written, which is still used by lawyers in Britain, the United States, and many other countries all over the world.

In his book, An Analysis of the Laws of England, he portrayed the theory of deodand, an word derived from the Latin “deo dandum”, meaning “given unto God.” The concept of deodand specified that if an animal (or an object) caused injury or death to a human, the animal must be given to the crown (government) to be sold.

Legal cases involving deodand often involved animals injuring or killing humans, such as the case of a person being executed or injured by a horse-drawn cart.

Eventually, in the 18th century, lawyers were known to split hairs, and so it was finally decided that legally, a moving horse could be held liable for the death or injury of a person, but if a person fell from a stationary horse-drawn cart and injured himself or died, the horse was not liable.

It is unknown how many animals in England and the United States have been sentenced of crimes against humans and given to deodand, but we do know that the legal custom continued in England until 1846, when new legislation to protect railways came into effect.

By and large, in America, the legal concept of deodand is the basis for existing civil capitulate laws, in which a person’s property can be seized and then sold, a custom that has led to pervasive abuses (against people).

Read More

  • 10 Animals That Were Put on Trial | by Sam Ursu | Medium
  • Animal trial – Wikipedia